Tuesday, February 19, 2008
According to a report published on the American Baptist Press ("ABP") Website and the Los Angeles Times, the IRS has opened an investigation of First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, California, for violating the political campaigning prohibitions of IRC § 501(c)(3). The IRS charges that the church's pastor, Wiley Drake, violated the law by using church resources to endorse Republican presidential candidate, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.
According to the ABP report, Pastor Drake made the endorsements in August 2007. In a press release printed on church letterhead, Pastor Drake stated:
After very serious prayer and consideration, I announce today that I am going to personally endorse Mike Huckabee. I ask all of my Southern Baptist brothers and sisters to consider getting behind Mike and helping him all you can.
Shortly after he released the written statement, Pastor Drake also endorsed Governor Huckabee on an Internet-based radio show the church sponsors. On that show, the pastor stated:
Yes, I endorsed him personally and, yes, we use the First Southern Baptist Church. Everything we do is under the auspices of the church.
The IRS announced its investigation after Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a complaint alleging that Pastor Drake and the First Southern Baptist Church had violated the law. When informed about the complaint, Pastor Drake reportedly told the Los Angeles Times that he was not worried about federal tax regulators. “They don't scare me,” he said. “I don't give a rip about the IRS. I don't believe in the separation of church and state, and I believe the IRS should stay out of church business.”
Pastor Drake's statements notwithstanding, his attorney told the Associated Press that his client did not violate federal tax law by endorsing Huckabee because it was a personal endorsement, not done on behalf of the church. Said the attorney:
Our position on this is that ... churches and pastors have First Amendment rights just like anybody else, and that includes the right to speak out. They can feel free to personally endorse candidates. It was not a church endorsement, and he made that very clear.